Finding an audience is one of the biggest challenges every writer faces.
Once you have a finished book with plenty to offer, how do you bridge the gap between yourself and a passionate audience of readers? Finding your ideal reader can be tricky, but it’s the most important thing you can do to sustain your career as a writer.
Fortunately, there are a few ways you can get to work finding the right audience and establishing your ideal reader. Before you find an audience in real life, it’s helpful to come up with an ideal target reader who will love your book. A reader avatar is an imagined reader with a fully fleshed-out profile, from demographics to favorite media. This hypothetical reader can guide your approach to marketing and help you connect with the real people who are part of that target audience.
Your ideal reader will love your books, wait eagerly for your next release, and even recommend your books to other people. This is a great person to have on your side, so you want to connect with them as soon as possible! Here are some tips on how to find your own ideal reader.
Most writers start out writing for themselves. Chances are, you were your own first audience, and that kept you motivated to continue writing. As you move into the realm of professional writing, though, it’s important to think about an audience other than yourself. You already know that your writing is worth reading, but you need to find other people who agree with you.
It’s hard to be objective about your expectations as a reader when reading your own work. As a writer, you already know everything about your book, and it is probably written according to your tastes. Imagining yourself as your ideal reader can limit your ability to cater to an audience. Your audience will include people different from you, and those other people should be your focus. When you envision a target audience or ideal reader, you’re forced to consider your writing from another perspective. Imagining other potential readers is a great exercise to help you think about the commercial potential of your writing.
Catering to your audience doesn’t mean abandoning your creativity and sticking to a boilerplate. It just means finding ways to keep your readers happy and make sure they trust you enough to come back for more books in the future.
Here are some ideas to get started finding an audience:
- Figure out your genre.
- Look for other authors writing similar books.
- Consider topics related to your book’s subject matter, like an interest in art, coffee, or biology.
- Check out fan pages for books similar to yours, and look at the people following them.
Creating a customer avatar is an indispensable part of any marketing campaign. It helps advertisers fine-tune their emails and other content, aiming it at an existing audience instead of trying to appeal to everyone. When you have one consistent avatar in mind, it’s easier to keep a consistent tone and stay focused on a marketing message.
For writers, reader avatars serve a similar purpose. The image of your ideal reader can pave the way to focus and consistency in your work. Imagine a specific set of eyes reading your book—considering a hypothetical reader will remind you that you’re writing for an audience.
Writer Brian A. Klems has used this model to guide his writing for several books. His ideal reader is named Peggy, and he has such a detailed mental image of her that he knows what sports team she supports and where she works.
Klems knows that Peggy isn’t the only person buying books, and that she doesn’t represent everybody. However, he has taken the time and effort to understand what she wants to read, and now he knows how to write a story that Peggy can’t resist. His audience consists of all the real-life people that have the same taste as his reader avatar.
What does a reader avatar look like? When creating a reader avatar, you need to be as specific as possible. You’re imagining one ideal reader, not a group of readers or an audience. Some of the things you should know about your reader avatar include:
- Household size
- Geographic location
- Hobbies and interests
- Favorite media
- Preferred book genres
- Favorite tropes to see in books
You may need to do a little research to answer these questions by finding out what real-life people of a similar demographic want from their books. The specificity of one ideal reader will help you check to see if your work is doing a good job targeting a more general audience. There will always be variation within groups of people. That’s why it’s helpful to have your specific avatar in mind when writing. You can’t please everybody, but you can write with a particular person in mind. How does your avatar feel about your book?
If you need help getting started on your reader avatar, try this worksheet from Viral Solutions. This worksheet is designed for marketers, but it asks many of the same questions you need to ask about your reader avatar.
Before you commit to writing with a target audience in mind, you should consider the size of that potential audience. How many people fit into this category? Finding a niche audience is a good start, but how do you know when your audience is too niche?
You can start by learning more about your audience online. There may be information about that group’s book buying habits in articles, or they could be posting about their habits themselves. See what they like to read, and what makes them commit to buying a book.
If you already have a social media presence as an author, you can use the tools on each website to see the demographics of the people engaging with you and your work. Websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram provide detailed information, with your fans or followers broken down by gender, age ranges, and location.
Amazon book listings can be helpful, too. Each book’s listing shows you its rank in different categories, along with its ranking in the Kindle Store overall. Those rankings can give you a general idea of how popular books are, and reader reviews provide a sense of how enthusiastic people are about them.
You can also look at Google keyword trends. Google Trends is a free tool, and it’s a very useful way to see what people are searching for and talking about. Here’s an example of how you can use it. These are the results for a popular genre– historical romance novels. The chart shows the relative popularity of this search term over time, not the specific number of searches each day.
If you scroll down, you can see where in the United States the search term is most popular, the top related queries, and the top related topics.
You can also compare interest in different search terms. Here’s a chart comparing three different romance subgenres. The comparison tool is especially useful when you want to gauge interest in your genre compared to others.
A combination of these tools and other resources can help you determine whether or not there are enough people in your target audience.
If there isn’t a large enough audience to support your writing career, you may need to switch things up. If you realize that your target audience is too narrow, how can you expand it?
To find a bigger audience, consider tweaking some of your current ideal reader demographics. You may find that there aren’t enough people in your audience buying books to support your writing career. Try targeting a different geographic location, a different gender, or age range.
Take note of the people already supporting your career. There could be a pattern to the people who support your work the most, and who are most likely to follow you online or sign up for a newsletter. This information could help you refine and adjust your target audience.
Another option is to consider secondary audiences. They may not fit into your ideal readership, but they may still buy your book. For example, young adult novels are targeted at young people between 12 and 18, but the genre is solidly popular with adults.
Now that you have an audience in mind, with one specific reader avatar fleshed out, it’s time to figure out where your readers spend their time. Once you know where your readers hang out, whether online or in person, you can learn more about them and make sure they know how to find your writing.
Since so much of the reading community is online, you might want to start by looking at websites and apps. Social media websites with clear tagging systems and groups are a great place to look. Find out which ones have a thriving social scene, and visit their reader communities.
Here are some common digital hangouts for readers:
- Facebook groups.
- Forums devoted to certain genres, like romance.
How can you learn from readers on social media? The great thing about social media is that you can see trends and learn how people talk about things to their friends. Through online communities, you can learn about your audience. If you already have a following as a writer, you can learn about the kind of people who already like your work. If you don’t yet have one, you can find people who like writing similar to yours, perhaps in the same genre. Try engaging with your audience by prompting them with questions, whether in poll format or for them to respond to directly. Most people like sharing their opinion through social media, and it’s a good way to develop a rapport with others online. If you’re trying to develop a following and taking cues from more established writers, adding relevant hashtags to your posts and profile can help people find you. Try to get as niche as possible when tagging, so passionate fans of the genre or book type can find you.
In-person communities are another great resource, even if they can be harder to find. Bookstores, especially indie ones with a loyal customer base, often have readings and book launch events. Libraries host events, too, including author visits and readings. Bookstores and libraries both have a presence in their local communities, so they can help with promoting your work. They make posts on social media, send out emails, and list upcoming events on their calendars. Book fairs are another great place to meet readers, booksellers, and other writers. Participating in those events can help you establish yourself and get involved in a community.
You can make a good impression by being friendly and finding ways to help booksellers and librarians meet their goals. They’re always planning events to get people reading, and you might be able to help with some of them. For example, they could be looking for local authors to speak to teens, experts on a particular topic you’ve written about, or even volunteers for big events. Getting involved in local events can help you promote your work, and it’s a fun way to give back to the community.
Finding and connecting with an audience is vital to your career as an author. It’s important to spend time imagining who will buy your book, and why, so you can write directly to that audience. Writing with an audience in mind can help you develop a consistent, reliable author voice and keep readers interested.
After creating a reader avatar, you’ll have a clearer idea of what parts of your book work for readers, and where you lose their attention. Reader interest is important, but what about your own passion? Once you start thinking about an audience, the next challenge is figuring out how to cater to readers while maintaining your voice.
As an author, you need to give your audience a reason to keep reading. However, you also want to keep up your motivation. Your ideas and unique flair are still an important part of the equation, and these are the features that hook readers in. Your writing style, characters, and story are all essential parts of your book, and they are key to appeal to readers.
You can likely make some subtle changes to your book that will make it more seductive to your target audience, however. Some audiences might appreciate more detailed descriptions, and others might want more emotional entanglements between characters. What is the cherry on top that your readers are looking for that makes a reading experience stand out?
Cozy mysteries are famous for including recipes throughout the book, for example. Plenty of contemporary romances are notable for snappy dialogue. Fantasy novels often have lush descriptions of unfamiliar lands. Could your book benefit from more juicy tidbits like these for readers? Ultimately, you get to decide what to include in your book. Be smart about meeting your readers’ expectations.
Some of this work can come during the editing process. If you plan to send your book out to beta readers for comments, seek out people who fit into your target audience. These readers can provide valuable insight into how that audience will respond to your book.
Compare your reader’s wants and needs with your reasons for writing. What is important to you as a writer? If you compare your priorities and your readers’ priorities, there should be plenty of overlap. That overlap should give you a guide to topics and ideas to focus on, since they’re satisfying to both you and your readers, and those should be the areas you focus on.
Connecting with readers is a rewarding experience, and it’s something you can think about throughout the entire writing process. When you have a reader avatar, it’s easier to imagine an audience reacting to each pivotal scene or witty, quotable line. That imagined reaction can add a boost to your motivation and also keep your writing focused. Writing with an audience in mind will help you find the readers who are waiting for a book exactly like yours.